Profile: Matthew Kelly


Matthew Kelly at Express Yourself. (Courtesy of M.Kelly)

How long have you been involved in Theatre?
Somewhere around 18 years: if you’re counting high school. 

What inspired you to become involved?
Wanting to understand and be a part of performance and story, and then there was that whole teenage love thing.  After that first production if it’s in your blood you’re addicted.

In what capacity do you participate in Theatre?
Primarily I’m a director, but I’m a jack of all trades and believe in having a broad background.  It’s also pretty impractical for us in The Bahamas to paint little lines on the stage and say “I’m an actor!”, “I’m a director!” when what they really mean is “I don’ wanna do that over there, so I’ll give myself this job description right here, thank you very much.”  Even writers should be forced to be involved far more.  To mangle a maxim, if a playwright should write what he knows then he’d better know theatre.

Can you list the productions that you have been involved in over the years?

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Scrooge / A Christmas Carol.

Snow White and the Seven Dudes.

Cinderella.

Black Crab‘s Tragedy.

Slaps.

The Hold Up.

Island Sex (’02).

Play Time.

Devil on the Cross.

Diary of Souls.

Da Market Fire.

Island Sex (’06).

Da Rally.

Love in Two Acts (The Bear and The Open Door).

Light.

What are some of your most memorable moments in Theatre?
So many!  A random selection: 

Screaming “A fart has no nose!” in the Chalk Circle. I was pretty bad, but it freed me of stage fright.  

Performing Black Crab’s Tragedy (30 member cast) to and audience of two in Freeport

Selling out the National Center for the Performing Arts.

Having my eyes opened during Da Market Fire.

How do you feel about Theatre in The Bahamas? What are its weak and strong points? How active is it?
Thankfully theatre is on the rebound.  

Theatre in The Bahamas is in a fledgling state, a bit weird considering its decades and decades of history.  In a sense it’s really being reborn.  Not all of it or all of the people are new, not by far, but part of our legacy was a disconnect from the previous generation to the current one in theatre.  That’s no-one’s fault per se, but one consequence has been a lot of new groups pushing forward, making their own way (which is excellent) but not having the benefit of the previous generation’s experience and wisdom to pick, choose and refuse from.  It’s also meant that the public’s perception has been one of spotty theatre instead of a steady continuum which helps make it harder to build audiences

An up side is that there are all these great, energetic, passionate, and dedicated people on the scene now doing what they have to to tell their stories and express their creativity.

How do we make it better?
We all know what needs to be done, but these things are just addressing symptoms.  I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of what really plagues theatre, other arts, and even broader social issues in The Bahamas comes down to us not committing the time to building functional community.  If the mechanisms and social constructs and social capital of functional community are in place then dealing with issues becomes an automatic and second nature response because it’s in the interest of the community.  A lot of the fracturing of the ‘community’ that was present is showing signs of subsiding and this is a great time be building stronger bonds.

How do you prepare to direct a show? Are there any special challenges that you must overcome when directing in The Bahamas?
There’s some prep work that goes on before a play is chosen, but once the script is in hand there must first be a familiarity with the text. After several readings I can begin making decisions on style, spine, technical and creative design, and rough rehearsal and production schedules. All these decisions have an impact on one another but it all comes back to understanding your role as director and the considerations of the play, the place (venue, time and atmosphere), and the audience.  My style of note taking is a mash-up of a few recommendations I’ve come across and I recommend Backwards and Forwards by David Ball and On Directing by Harold Clurman as great books to start with regarding initial preparation. 

There are many challenges when directing in The Bahamas, but I suspect they’re challenges that are common anywhere that there’s not a highly functional theatre community, and that’s most places that an industry isn’t thriving in.  Time, money, skilled people, but much more than these we face a culture that’s still pretty void of thinking about theatre as a part of their lives.  Cultivating audiences and a general atmosphere where going to plays is an integral part of life is the biggest collective challenge we must address as a community right now.

A producer/production manager takes care of a lot of challenges the play has, so for the director I would say that finding a team that commits to the work a play requires is number one.  There are many who say they’re really interested in acting but they never explore the craft at all.  What they really mean is that they want to be in front of an audience and be applauded, and they expect you to give that to them.  If there’s someone with potential I’ll try to show him everything I’ve picked up along the way, but if you’re not interested in learning I quickly stop you from wasting everyone else’s time.  I give you the conditions up front and if you don’t play by the rules I fire you.  Whether it’s a paying gig or not you’re fired because you’re not working as part of the team and it’s my job to keep things honest and fair for everyone; there’s nothing personal about it.

Any advice for those who want to get involved in Theatre in any capacity?
Read, discuss & do.  Read plays, read books on the part of the craft you’re interested in, support that with books about the other parts of the craft.  Don’t think that information from books is enough, you have to discuss and do what you learn to really grasp it and you have to discuss it with people more experienced than yourself.  So get involved with one or, better, several theatre groups.  And go expecting to work while you learn. Maybe you’ll be amazed that work can actually be fun.

Who were your mentors in Theatre?
I’d have to credit my junior high English teacher, Mrs. Hunter, for showing such passion around plays and literature and learning in general.  The main thing though, was that she cared about us and our learning.  I’ve also picked up a lot of dos and don’ts from people I’ve been around, but I haven’t really had any mentors as such.  Perhaps it’s best to count good books and mistakes and a willingness to learn from them. 

How do you see your future in Bahamian Theatre?
Um… with the all new Future 5000 Glasses Combo Kit?  By reading tea leaves?  

I’m going to direct plays, actively pass on what I’ve learned and try my hand at writing.  I’ll also be involved in the work of building community in theatre.

What is your favorite Bahamian play?
Ha!  I don’t believe in favorites. Seriously.

In your years in theatre, have you seen the government support the arts in a tangible way?
Of course, but if you’re asking if it should be better the answer is also of course!  Still, I’m a big believer in going out and getting it done then shoving it in government’s face to support.  They’re always keen to swoop in for the credit and the photo op once the work is done.

What role, if any, should the government play in not just theatre but the arts as a whole?
Government should expect us to get together and figure out what we want as a community and then to reasonably fund our needs in the same way others receive funding.  They shouldn’t just prop us up, but instead should be taking care of infrastructural needs, like improving the National Centre. They also need to help in maintaining a framework that enables the arts to flourish but otherwise stay the hell out of the way.  Until we get our collective butt together I don’t think it reasonable to expect much.  It’s obvious that a national program is needed, but again I think that’s a cart-before-horse conversation.  That said, even without looking at the arts community government should recognize the value of art, and much more importantly, creativity and have a basic system in place to support consistently both the production of artistic works and the cultivation of creativity in the broad populace.

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Profile: Ward Minnis


Ward as Cartwright in "The Cabinet" (courtesy of Ward Minnis 2011)

How long have you been involved in Theatre?
All my life. Or since 2003. Whichever came first.

What inspired you to become involved?
I believe playwrighting is the best medium to reach the Bahamian masses. I like all forms of writing, but if you want to reach people you have to become a playwright, I think that’s why I decided to become involved.

In what capacity (ies) do you participate in Theatre?
Producer, actor, writer and in marketing.

Can you list the productions that you have participated in over the years?
The Landlord, Playtime and The Cabinet. I did something in Canada but it was pretty bad – so bad I won’t include it here.

What are some of your most memorable moments in Theatre?
The Good. My first time on stage. The exhilaration  of being on stage was like nothing before.

The Bad. That show in Canada proved how bad theatre can go sometimes. It was a dress rehearsal and it was bad. The script was an abomination and the actors never took it seriously, so we ended up with a disaster of an opening night.

The Ugly. Skeebo forgot his lines and I had to feed them to him one night during The Landlord run.

The Landlord poster. (courtesy of nicobethel.net)


How do you feel about Theatre in The Bahamas? What are its weak and strong points? How active is it? How can we make it better?
I think it’s fine. The problem is with Art in general or how Art Intellectuals view the public. They think the public is retarded and that they must elevate them to their level. So what we end up having is popular theatre and the ‘good’ theatre. There isn’t much effort to reach the people, instead we create art and we feel the people must understand. What we need is some serious playwrights who are trying to capture the imagination of the people.

Any advice for those who want to get involved in playwrighting?
Ya gotta sit your ass down and write. Be prepared for criticism. Be prepared to destroy it and rebuild it. It takes time.

Who were your mentors in Theatre?
Ian Strachan. I’m a member of a playwrights circle in Canada but it’s hard to call them mentors.

How do you see your future in Bahamian Theatre?
Depends on how The Cabinet pans out. If it works out I have a potentially long future in Bahamian theatre.

What is your favorite Bahamian play?
The Cabinet of course!! Seriously though,  I have yet to read it. I’ve read You Can Lead A Horse To Water, but it’s not my favourite.

In your years as a writer, have you seen the government support the arts in a tangible way?
Not really. Not in any consistent way either. They do it when it’s convenient and when it helps to bring in tourists. Look at the national festival, Junkanoo – which they support – but are constantly trying to make safe for tourists and the middle class. They try to colonize Junkanoo and it resists because how can you colonize that which is meant to express resistance?

So, No. The government does not support the arts, but when they do it seems to come with unwanted and unnecessary meddling.

What role, if any, should the government play in not just theatre but the arts as a whole?
I think they should get out-of-the-way. It would be nice if they gave us money on a consistent and predictable basis, but we should not hold our breath waiting for them to get a clue. Artists should thus accept anything from the government as a gift, not a right – even though they deserve it.